Let’s do the math

Before I let her go for now, I want to share with you what I learned from working on Emmeline’s story, and completing my 31 day writing challenge this January.

In a nutshell, discipline and focus are two of the biggest takeaways for me as a writer. Prior to this, I’d been writing when I was in the mood. I’d chase my creative dragons, be that at 4am in the morning, or as little or often as I pleased. There were periods when I hadn’t been writing for months at a time, and while I most certainly believe in chasing dragons, or following the creative inspiration as it hits you (NOT smoking opium!), I also believe that in order to be successful – to yourself and in the world at large – it takes serious focus.

Previously I had gotten to the point where if I set time aside to sit down and write, I would be distracted by everything else around me, my phone, my friends, the music I was listening to, even the things on my desk!

Having a deadline and a goal has changed that. I’ve written 37,000 words in 31 days. Sure they may not have been the highest quality 100% of the time, but it’s still 37,000 words! (Let’s face it, I haven’t had much of a chance to professionally edit what I’ve been spurting out! I’ve relied on my consistent readers and a few good friends to message me and pull me up on that one! By the way, why have none of you pointed out the mistakes in the final three blogs? I guess you are as tired as I am!)

I’ve found myself thinking that if those 37,000 words had been put into the story I was working on prior to Emmeline, then I would have finished the novel and be onto the editing / rewriting phase already.

So my fellow writers, get out of your comfort zone and do some sort of writing challenge! I totally recommend it! #FOCUS!

Before I move on, I wanted to share a few facts with you about my behind the scenes experiences, because it was a hell of a lot of fun!

37,000 words has meant an average of 1,200 words per day, and combined with the effort to find the ‘right’ photo (more on that later), I’ve spent 2-3 hours of my life every day focused on this, close to 100 hours over the course of the month (I do have a full time job, and several other commitments to juggle as well! Don’t we all?!) Lastly, I’ve probably annoyed the hell out of 99% of my non-reading facebook friends with my daily newsfeed! (You know I love you ^_~)

In the space of one short month, I’ve increased the traffic on my blog by 150% (No lie!), I’ve increased my followers by 30% on WordPress, and I’ve seen a steady increase in traffic and following through my Instagram account @jr_manawa too (though possibly because people like following my awesome python companion, Kowhai ^_^ I’ll accept that. She is pretty cool.)

For those of you who might find inspiration from the way I did my writing challenge, by getting my readers to choose the topicsI thoroughly recommend it! It truly pushed me out of my comfort zone. However, I would only recommend running a continuous storyline through it at the same time to those who are slightly mad! There were evenings where I stared at my computer screen mindlessly without a word typed for hours. I also did not get to bed before midnight on any of those 31 days. Truth. It was tiring, but beautiful at the same time. There were two occasions where I did not get that day’s blog up before I slept, both for a valid reason, but it was definitely stressful at the time!

The biggest pressure I felt with weaving a story at the same time was the fear of dropping threads, or not bringing the same powerful emotions and personality traits through with each read and each character, every day. However, quite in contrast to this fear, I’ve found I have discovered a character and a story that I never knew was in me, and an emotional connection to it. I want to know more about Emmeline, and I want to do her better justice than 31 days and 37,000 words written flat-out over 100 hours. There were scenes and characters dropped at the last moment, whole blogs that were completely re-written five minutes before I was due to publish them, and numerous other little signs which tell me there is more.

Watch this space.

Meanwhile, if you want to use my themes for your own writing challenge, you are most welcome to. I found they were a good mix of objects, emotions, and settings. Some were fantastical and emotive, and some pure mundane, while others bordered on discomforting and were difficult to work with.

Here they are laid out nice and neat for you;

  1. Pink Clouds
  2. New Years Fireworks
  3. Spaghetti Bolognese
  4. Life going backwards
  5. Pohutukawa trees (If you are not from NZ – try just ‘trees’ ^_-)
  6. Discombobulation
  7. Extraordinary
  8. A Fan
  9. The lightning tree
  10. An icy place
  11. Farewell
  12. Death of a raven
  13. Learning English
  14. The sound of silence
  15. Learning to ski
  16. Itching
  17. Missing fathers
  18. Sex
  19. Nostalgia
  20. Maraehakao (Again, if you ain’t Kiwi – try your favourite place from childhood!)
  21. Stereotypes
  22. Garters
  23. Eels
  24. Piloting the Iron Maiden plane
  25. The hero’s journey
  26. Wires and cables
  27. Patience
  28. Chocolate
  29. Positivity
  30. Love
  31. The universe

My favourite two were probably Pink Clouds and The Universe, purely because Emmeline would not have been a story until I wrote the first words of the first topic, and the universe was just perfect for the finale. The topics which affected the direction of the story the most would have to be ‘Pohutukawa trees’, and ‘A fan’. They were both instrumental in setting the scene for Emmeline and Charon’s respective characters. ‘Sex’, ‘Piloting the Iron Maiden plane’ and ‘The lightning tree’ were the most difficult to work into the story, the first two for obvious reasons, and then somehow ‘The lightning tree’ which I thought was a brilliant topic, just never happened how I believed it should have. I re-wrote that particular blog three times before I was happy with it (and missed my deadline!) The most amusing topics to write on were, without a doubt, ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’, ‘Itching’ and ‘Stereotypes’.

And finally, a quick word on photography. I don’t use photos off the internet, ever. All the photos I ever use on my blog are taken by myself, or by close friends with their permission. For my challenge, this point provided a large amount of added stress, but was extremely rewarding when I got it right. There were nights were I made journeys out late onto the darkened streets of London to find the perfect shot, like the remains of the original Necropolis Railway station for ‘Beneath the Necropolis Railway’, the historic neon lights in Soho  for ‘For sale’ and the top deck of a London bus for ‘After midnight’. There were nights I was up until 1am smearing my face with fake blood (Patience is not one of my virtues), or debating with my sister on the other side of the planet over colours on the finale edit (Of farewells and revelations). And finally, there were some I am still not happy with (The pohutukawa trees – I know I have a better photo somewhere, and Faceless – just not satisfied with the end product!)

In conclusion, I would do another writing challenge in a heartbeat. I believe it has set me up in the right place for the year ahead with regard to my writing goals, and given me the focus and determination to succeed. If you plan to do something similar, and undertake a single storyline, then planning would be the key, though this does defeat the point of a spontaneous ‘writing challenge’ in some ways. In doing a public challenge we are looking to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and push the limits of our writing potential.

So do it, definitely do it.

Meanwhile, I’m off to have some cuddles with my gorgeous baby girl and enjoy a bit of a rest!

With love and darkness, JRManawa xxx

2 Comments Add yours

  1. dreamtym says:

    Wonderful….thanks so much Jo.! You are so inspiring to so many people, including your Dad. Yes I found a few grammars and spellings, but kept from commenting. Maybe I should have. But I do hope you will edit and publish the story…pleeez..! But just atm take a well deserved rest. Dearest love, Dad..xxxx

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